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Artificial Intelligence Breaks Into Golf

· Sports,Sports Technology,Sports Business,Golf

Artificial Intelligence Breaks Into Golf

While golf may be known as an old sport, the recent use of artificial intelligence in golf technology shows otherwise.

From golf swing and statistics analyzers to the modern design of clubheads, artificial intelligence is used as a more logical, timely, and smarter alternative to humans.

DECADE, a statistical analysis software, uses machine learning to recommend areas of a player’s golf game which need improvement based on the player’s play style, physical attributes, and of course statistics. On the other hand, Callaway, a leading golf club manufacturer, uses an AI supercomputer to design, test, and rework their clubs until perfection.

In a sport like golf with skill sets varying from putting to full swings, it has always been difficult for competitive golfers to understand the strengths and weaknesses in their game.

However, new statistical analysis programs implement AI to map out problem areas, give suggestions, and create a practice plan to improve.

One popular phone app, DECADE, has the player drag and drop markers for each shot on an aerial view map of each hole. The program collects information about the shot including the distance that it was hit, from where it was hit (fairway, rough, bunker, etc.), and the club that the player used.

DECADE’s “drag and drop” round entry

Using AI, the program then rates the quality of each shot based on its prior analysis of your game and a database containing millions of shots from other players. After multiple eighteen-hole rounds are entered, DECADE highlights problem areas in that player’s game based on their individual shots.

DECADE’s suggested improvements based on statistical analysis and details about each player

However, the program doesn’t simply select problem areas based on the players average “shot ratings”. Instead, it takes into account what type of player you are and which areas of your game you can most easily improve. While this feature may not seem very important, the machine learning algorithm that DECADE uses to suggest problem areas can be crucial to effective and timely game improvement.

Take, for example, a senior player who hits his driver well but has trouble with short putts. Although the player’s driving may be his strength, a standard analysis software may suggest that his driving needs improvement, solely because he can’t hit the ball as far as players with similar eighteen-hole scores.

Realistically, however, it would be very difficult for the player to improve on his driving distance as he would likely struggle to get stronger at that age. As a result, that generic software’s advice would be useless: the player wouldn’t gain any distance and would waste time which could have been spent improving other aspects of his game.

However, programs using AI take into account physical traits such as weight, age, and height to develop a sharper picture of the players golf game ultimately allowing golfers to reach their maximum potential.

While not as mainstream as AI analysis, golf club design has also benefited from machine learning. Manufacturers like Callaway Golf have been using AI supercomputers which design, test, and tweak clubs, eventually creating a final prototype.

Typically, Callaway’s “non-AI” golf club design process revolves around a skilled research and development team who start by designing a prototype. They conduct both manual and virtual simulation testing and after reviewing the results, the engineers will adjust the design.

Eventually, after meticulous testing, the team will settle on a final design which they will produce and sell. Although the team can never be sure that they have designed the best club, their new AI computer can.

Callaway’s supercomputer can virtually design clubs, test clubheads with remarkable accuracy, and adjust the design effectively, all in a fraction of the usual design timeframe.

The supercomputer starts the process by either generating a relatively standard prototype driver or using the existing driver design from the previous year. It then tests the design through a series of virtual simulations analyzing the club’s aerodynamics, power, and performance on mishits.

Learning from the strengths and weaknesses of the last design, the supercomputer then creates another design and repeats the same process. Callaway estimates that their supercomputer designed and tested 15,000 drivers over the three-week design process of the Epic Flash.

A look at the inside of Epic Flash’s face reveals its asymmetric ripple design (Image courtesy of Callaway)

Although this process is very short, the final design is far from conventional with extraordinary performance. The face design of the Epic Flash driver has a seemingly random array of waves and ripples in an asymmetrical design. Engineers at Callaway still struggle to understand how the asymmetric design performs so well but one thing is certain: AI supercomputers are bringing golf clubs to the next level.

It’s hard to predict the future of golf technology. While AI was only recently integrated into the golf industry, there have already been significant improvements and the potential for new ideas seems endless.

These technological advancements have come to benefit the most competitive and casual players alike and will undoubtedly help the game grow in the years to come.

Perhaps one day, AI supercomputers will design new golf courses or robots will give in-person swing lessons, but it is clear that the golf AI industry is just getting started.

Written by Ishan Madan

Edited by Alexander Fleiss, Glen Oh, Calvin Ma, Gihyen Eom, Rohan Mehta & Michael Ding

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